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Bonding bill heads toward a vote -- and possible veto

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ST. PAUL -- Minnesota's Democratic-led Legislature is ready to send Republican Gov. Tim Pawlenty a public works funding bill he has indicated he doesn't like, setting the stage for a possible veto.

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Legislative leaders plan votes in the full House and Senate today on borrowing $925 million for state construction projects -- $100 million more than Pawlenty wants. When cash is figured in, the bill would cost more than $1 billion.

"This bill is fiscally irresponsible and has misguided priorities," Pawlenty said in a statement Tuesday night after a House-Senate conference committee unanimously approved the measure.

The governor will not say whether he would veto the entire bill or just veto projects he does not like.

"Their inability to say no led to a seriously bloated laundry list," Pawlenty said.

Pawlenty's chief complaints are that the bill funds local projects -- such as a Bemidji events center and a Moorhead volleyball center -- but not some veterans' hospital needs he recommends.

"That would be a reflection of some pretty deeply misplaced priorities," he said.

The bill includes $6 million for a vocational building at Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing and $2 million for port development.

Tired of waiting

After a House-Senate conference committee gave its blessing to the bonding bill Tuesday evening, the chief legislative negotiators said they grew tired waiting for Pawlenty to tell them what projects he could or could not support, so opted to go ahead and send him their bill.

Sen. Keith Langseth, DFL-Glyndon, the Senate's chief negotiator, said: "It's very upsetting to me. He has to decide at some point."

Once the House and Senate deliver the bill to Pawlenty, likely on Thursday, he has three days to sign or veto it.

The House's top finance lawmaker said Pawlenty tells groups he supports their projects, but then tells lawmakers he does not. "If we were to add up all the projects he said he supported, it probably would be $3 billion," said Rep. Loren Solberg, DFL-Grand Rapids.

Pawlenty told reporters he told lawmakers not to spend too much.

"We've repeatedly warned them not to assume that, and that the whole bill could be vetoed on the theory that we're not going to clean up their bill for them," he said.

Much of the conference committee discussion Tuesday night centered on a proposed new state park along northeastern Minnesota's Lake Vermilion. The committee bill contains no money for the park, one of Pawlenty's pet projects, because a price to buy the land has not been negotiated.

March 15 deadline

Negotiators missed a March 15 deadline for deciding on a sales price, but it has been extended to near the Legislature's May 19 adjournment date.

Pawlenty said a Department of Natural Resources appraisal estimated the land value at $13 million or $14 million, but its owner, US Steel, pegged its value at around $20 million.

The bill is heavy on college and university projects. The University of Minnesota campuses would receive $131 million, while Minnesota State Colleges and Universities system facilities would get $208 million from the state.

Projects in the House-Senate conference committee bonding bill:

Minnesota Correctional Facility-Red Wing vocational building, $6 million

Port development,

$2 million

Lake Zumbro restoration,

$175,000

Alexandria Technical College law enforcement center addition, $10.5 million

Bemidji State University Sattgast science building addition, $8.9 million

Dakota County Technical College transportation, technology laboratory, $200,000

Lake Superior Community and Technical College health science center addition, $11 million

Mesabi Range Community and Technical College shop space addition and renovation, $5 million

Minnesota State University Moorhead Lommen Hall renovation

$13.1 million

Minnesota State University Moorhead Livingston Lord Library renovation and design

$400,000

Minnesota West Community and Technical College Worthington field house design

$450,000

Minnesota State Community and Technical College Moorhead trades addition and design library

$2.5 million

Mesabi Range Community and Technical College shop space addition

$5 million

Ridgewater College lab and classroom design and renovation

$3.5 million

Red Lake School, Red Lake Indian Reservation loan

$16 million

Browns Valley flood hazard mitigation grants

$3.9 million

Flood hazard mitigation grants

$15 million

Crookston flood mitigation

$10 million

Red River Basin digital elevation model

$600,000

Big Bog State Recreation Area

$1.6 million

State trail rehabilitation, development and acquisition

$15.3 million

Trail connections

$697,000

Drill Core Library, Hibbing

$500,000

Water and Soil Resources Board, including Red River Basin land easement program

$25 million

Clean water legacy, including Grass Lake and Lake Titlow

$1.3 million

Seed Potato inspection building, East Grand Forks

$20,000

Red Rock transit corridor, southeast Twin Cities

$500,000

Moorhead volleyball center

$3 million

Rush Line transit

$500,000

Interstate 94 transitway, Washington County

$750,000

Northshore express

$1.5 million

Dakota county regional trail

$1.4 million

Chemical dependency treatment facility west-central Minnesota

$150,000

Ah Gwah Ching, Walker redevelopment center

$400,000

Minnesota Veterans Home, Silver Bay master plan renovation

$227,000

Bemidji Regional Event Center

$20 million

Veterans' memorial, Virginia

$100,000

Worthington agriculture bioscience center

$1 million

Duluth Entertainment Convention Center

$38 million

Itasca County infrastructure

$28 million

City of Bayport sewer system

$150,000

State Capitol Bureau reporter Scott Wente contributed to this story.

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Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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